chapter 1

The sidewalk was wide; cracked and spotted with shiny, grey patches of dry gum. Autumn leaves, stale and flattened, were scattered in odd places, herded into mounds by human traffic. In front of a sun-faded shop window two men slouched, hands hidden, eyes narrowed. They were still and quiet, watching their street come to life. The morning wind swept through and passers by tightened their jackets, red faces tucked into scarves and collars.

The diner on the corner was starting to fill. Alexsandra smelt coffee and donuts. She turned to Charlotte. "Hey Charly, wanna get a coffee?"

"Um, okay." Charly smiled, feeling around in the front pocket of her school bag. "I got heaps of change from the bus." She had cracked a twenty for the ride downtown.

"Cool." Alex pushed open the heavy, glass door, brushing past a big man in a tan coat, newspaper rolled and tucked under one arm. He stared at them, but Alex had her eye on the counter and pushed ahead, sholders squared.

The place was full of middle-aged men in suits. Alex and Charly shared a grin. What were two school girls doing having coffee in a place like this? Not boring maths class, anyway. The guy at the counter raised his eyebrows.

"You kids skipping class?" The question was blunt, but his tone was light. Alex winked. "Nah, we got let out early."

"Is that right?" He had a plastic name badge pinned to his left shirt pocket. Bob.

"Well, what can I do you for?"

"A latte, please." Alex's dad bought her coffee sometimes, on the way to school. She preferred hot chocolate, but riding in their big, black car alongside dad, dressed in his smart work clothes, sipping coffee, always felt good.

Charly was still fishing in her bag for coins. "I'll have the same, but skinny."

They paid up and found a seat looking out through dirty glass. From the inside they could read "s'derflA" on the big window. Alex and Charly sat elbowing their gruff neighbours who were all trying to catch up on so much lost time in fifteen minutes. The girls kicked their slender, uniform-stockinged legs, unable to touch the floor on the tall diner seats. Bob appeared with their coffee. "Enjoy, ladies." He raised an eyebrow and gave a half-smile, as if to say "love to chat, but I'm busy."

Alex took a sip and put on a brave face. She felt Charly grab her arm. "Hey, isn't that your dad?"

"What?" Alex stared, but the street was busy and she couldn't focus. "Where?"

"Over there." Charly pointed to a gleaming, black BMW parked at the kerb. A man was leaning against it. He wore a neat, long black overcoat into which was tucked a grey scarf. A tendril of smoke escaped his lips and he dropped his cigarette, crushing it beneath his toe.

"Shit." Alex didn't know her dad smoked. "We gotta go. If he catches us here I'm dead." Her father seemed to be staring right through the window, straight at them. "Oh man, I think he's seen us."

"Wait." Charly put down her cup. Alex's dad turned as a man approached him. They locked eyes for a second and Alex's father gave a brief nod, his face blank.

"Who's that?"

"I don't know." Alex had never seen this other guy before. He was younger than her father by a few years, and looked... strange. His hair was cropped very short, and Alex thought she could see the dark blue lines of a tattoo escaping up his neck. He wore a grey suit, which looked expensive, but the way he stood made Alex think he wasn't really comfortable in it. In one hand was a black briefcase.

Alex's father said a few words to the man and they got in the car together. "Your dad smokes?" Charly raised an eyebrow as they watched the big, black car creep out from the kerb.

"I didn't think dad smoked."

"Do you think he saw us?"

"Nah." Alex shrugged. "He would have come in and kicked my ass."

"Yeah, true." Michael wasn't really that strict at home, but if it was to do with school or homework, he could be pretty hard on Alex. She cradled her coffee, which was losing its warmth, and laughed. "Man, we are so lucky. But I wonder who that guy was? Maybe he's like, a work friend?"

"Yeah, probably." Charly fished for her bag. "Hey, we'd better go soon. There's a couple of shops I want to check out before we go back to school."

"Okay." Alex left the coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. "Let's go."

Michael saw Alex sitting in the diner, chatting to her friend, swinging her legs and sipping coffee. She was supposed to be in school. She was looking at him now; she'd spotted him. He would have gone in there and hauled the two girls back to St Anne's, but here was Semyon, striding down the path with a case in his hand.

Michael stared straight through the girls and pretended not to see them. He dropped his cigarette and glanced at Semyon. "You're late. Get in the car."

"I know I'm late. Sorry, Mike. Woke up this morning and guess what? I look out the window and the car is gone. Didn't hear a thing. You'd think I would have heard it, you know, a truck stopping outside my apartment..."

"We going?" Michael walked around to the driver's side. Semyon slid into the passenger's seat and they slipped into traffic, away from the truant girls. Michael would sort his daughter out later.

"So?" They dodged buses and trucks. Michael stopped at a set of lights and tapped his foot, impatient.

"I park it there all the time, a few hours now and then, when I'm busy with shit and got no time." An unlit cigarette bobbed up and down in Semyon's mouth. He was feeling his breast pockets for a lighter. "And then, this morning, it's just gone. I couldn't fucking believe it."

"Where's the envelope?" Michael offered Semyon his zippo. Semyon popped the case and passed him a yellow envelope in return. He took it and placed it on the dash, inching the car forward as the lights turned green. They hit another set of lights and Michael slid his fingernail under the envelope, slicing it open. He grew still.

"Why Timarov?"

"Pa wasn't real happy when the cops showed up last week. Some blond bitch came in and trashed the place. There was a younger guy with her, a rookie; the two of them went through everything." Semyon let the window down, and a cold blast of air swirled through. "Of course, they got nothing, but I wasn't real happy to clean their shit up. It's Timi, Mike. He's getting a bit on the side for this."

Michael raised his eyebrows. He liked Anton Timarov, but he believed Semyon. If the word came from Semyon's father he couldn't disagree. "I'll pass it on to Bobby."

"The kid's good, I'll give you that." Semyon tapped his cigarette out the window and looked at him. "Not your thing anymore, is it?"

"I've got my business. I don't need the money." Michael had his downtown office and his staff. He could spirit away large amounts of money and make it reappear with a cherry on top. He took a big cut. He was doing all right. "It was never my thing."

Semyon laughed. "But you know people. You get shit done."

They hit a clear stretch of road and Michael opened up, working the accelerator. "There are a lot of people I don't want to know. But I do, so you come to me." He shrugged, concentrating on the road.

"You think you can drag yourself away like that?" Semyon pulled out a fresh cigarette and applied it to his lit one. He reached into one breast pocket and put on a pair of black shades. "You really surprised us, Mike. Never would've thought you were the type."

"I'm exactly the type."

"Yeah? I think you're not really sure about that yourself." A cloud of smoke was blown into Michael's face. Semyon patted the black case on his knees. "Pull over here, will you?" They had reached 7th street. The municipal impound was on the other side. "Gotta get my car."

"Parking in the tow zone..." Michael pulled in, shaking his head. "You stupid or what?"

"Yeah, yeah. So I parked it for three days. I was in New York. These fucking new ticket inspectors..." Semyon lay the case on Michael's passenger seat as he got out. "Say hi to the kids for me, will you? What's her name? Alexsandra and the other one..."


"Ah Mike." Semyon shook his head. Michael stared at him as he closed the window, tinted glass rising up between them. Semyon shrugged and turned, pushing into the wind.

Alex was at the school gates at three in the afternoon. Usually, her father would be there, resting the day's broadsheet on the wheel, reading. Today, Alex waited. He hadn't been late for a long time. Alex waved goodbye to Lexie and Bern, the red-haired sisters, as they climbed into a silver SUV. She saw her father coming round the corner. The black car rolled to a stop. She got in.

"Hey kiddo." Her father smiled. "Sorry I'm a bit late. Got caught up with work."

"That's okay." Alex searched his face. He really hadn't seen her today, had he? She was almost certain, but she had to make sure. "Did something happen?"

Michael raised his eyebrows, grey eyes wide. "We signed two new contracts, if you can call that 'something'."

"Oh." Alex looked out of the window, feeling calm. She didn't really understand what her dad's work was all about; something to do with finance. To her mind, it was all just 'business'.

"So why weren't you in class today, Alexsandra?" They sped through tree-lined avenues. Everything was brown and grey. Alex swallowed, hard.

"You saw us?"

"I saw you, honey. What made you decide to go downtown?" Her father was looking straight at the road. His voice was light, but Alex knew he was pissed off.

"We were bored."

Michael didn't say anything. Alex wriggled in her seat. "Are you angry with me?" They came to a set of lights and Michael glanced at her, his face blank. "Just this once, I'm not, okay?" A small sigh escaped his lips. Alex thought he looked tired. "But I don't know how I'll feel about it next time."

"Sorry, dad." Alex pulled her legs up and hugged them, resting her chin on her knees. "But I just couldn't deal with school today."

"Something bothering you?" As they drove the houses became bigger, the driveways longer. Gardens were green and neatly trimmed, even with the trees dropping everything. Michael pulled into their driveway and pressed the buzzer for the gate.

"Not really," Alex couldn't explain. Her father wouldn't get it. "It's just a feeling."

"You sure?"

"It's nothing, dad." She looped her arm around the strap of her schoolbag, getting ready to hop out. "Don't worry about it. I'm sorry I skipped class today, okay? I won't do it again."

Michael nodded. "You'd better not. By the way, who's your friend?"

"You mean Charly? She's just a friend." Alex got out of the car. "She's cool, dad."

"Okay, Alex. I have to go do something, but I'll be home for dinner. Say hi to your mother." Her father watched as she slammed the door.

"Yeah, yeah." Alex ran up the steps, not bothering to wait until Michael had reversed back down the driveway. "See ya."

Jennifer was sitting on the couch, watching television. She heard the crunch of gravel as a car approached the house. It reversed, and the front door slammed. Footsteps.

"Hi mom." Alex's voice was flat, almost an afterthought.

"Hey honey." Jennifer kept her eyes on the television, watching a lean, toned woman rocking back and forth on a complicated piece of equipment. She was wearing her Dries Van Noten skirt and a slightly sheer Prada blouse. She'd opted for the low-heeled black patent Ferragamos and the red Bottega Veneta handbag, which was tossed casually on the couch. Her car keys, a lipstick and her cell phone spilled out onto the cream calfskin. Jennifer had been intending to go for lunch, but she hadn't made it. She'd texted Valerie, pleading a migraine.

She heard soft thuds as Alex bounded up the stairs. A door slammed. Jennifer rotated the glass slowly, liquid swirling inside it, thinking. The ice had all but melted, diluting the remaining vermouth. She took a sip. It was watery. She sighed and kicked off the Ferragamos; they shone, neglected, demanding attention on the polished floor. Enough. She lay back, watching a pale man in shorts suck in his gut for the 'after' shot.

Where was Michael? She set down the glass and considered another drink, but decided against it. Not enough time. She would start dinner soon. There were salmon fillets in the fridge. Easy. She knew Michael would complain and say they needed salt.

Where was Alex? Her daughter didn't talk much these days. She'd be up in her room, doing whatever teenage girls did on the internet. Since Nicholas had gone to college things had been quiet upstairs. No more fights. Jennifer changed the channel. Oprah and Bono were going shopping together.

Fuck it. She'd have another one. She got up and padded barefoot to the liquor cabinet, bypassing the vermouth and reaching for Michael's eighteen year old malt. Really, fuck it.

She half filled the glass. The whiskey had a deep, golden colour. The smell made her think of her husband. Where was he, anyway? Usually he would come home from work and go sit in his office, taking late calls and doing paperwork. Jennifer knew better than to come between Michael and his business. Whatever he was doing, it was fine with her. Alexsandra went to the best private school and Nicholas was an Economics major at Harvard. As for Jennifer, well, she had a wardrobe to rival that of any Hollywood actress. She spent her days lunching with friends and keeping toned at the gym. That's if she wasn't shopping, or being pampered at one of the many salons where she was on the priority list.

Life wasn't bad, right?

Where was Michael? She couldn't help but wonder. The house felt empty without him. Although they hadn't really had a decent conversation in the last few days, she liked having him around. She liked his calm manner, the way he would settle Alex down and bring the three of them together for a small part of the day. Dinner was their ritual; it reminded Jennifer she still had a husband, and a daughter. She would sit across from him and watch as he ate, his grey eyes occasionally crinkling in amusement at something Alex would say.

Jennifer drowned the last of the whiskey. She would never understand her husband. He could smile, talk about his day and embrace her the same way he had when they first met. He could talk to his children and share their dirty humour. He could still surprise her from time to time, but she knew he was keeping something from her. A part of him had always been hidden to them. She could sense it when he turned away, his voice flat, eyes dull. There were times when he wanted to be left alone.

Strange creature, her husband. And she was a kept wife. Things could be worse, right?

Jennifer leaned back, reaching for the remote. Time to find something else to watch; she'd had enough of rosy-cheeked teens talking about past experiences with bad skin.

She changed the channel. Two distinct shots ripped through the quiet afternoon. She wasn't quite sure what she'd heard.

Bang. Bang. They were followed by two more. Gunshots; there was no mistake. The empty glass slipped from her hand and hit the floor, smashing into hundreds of fragments.